COVID-19 INFORMATION What you need to know about the coronavirus if you are living in Japan or planning a visit.

Here
and
Now

opinions

Creating a Vision of Japan: Promoting Cool Japan

16 Comments

GLOBIS’ 2009 survey of creativity in leading countries revealed something very interesting. Instead of such traditional bastions of creativity as France and Italy, we found that the world considers Japan to be the most creative country on par with the United States.*

Japan is home to a unique culture and many creative products and services. These include anime, manga, computer games, music, movies, drama and other forms of creative content, the young people’s “cute” fashion of Shibuya and Harajuku, healthy Japanese cuisine and diet, safe and delicious food products, and the high-performance consumer electronics of Akihabara. The world looks to these components as “Cool Japan” with fascination and admiration.

Travel abroad and you are likely to run into fans of the films produced by Studio Ghibli, such as "Princess Mononoke." In an interview given during his visit to Japan, the tennis player, Rafa Nadal, said he grew up watching "Dragon Ball," rushing home from school everyday to watch his favorite program on TV. Many foreign celebrities are avid fans of Hello Kitty, and SMAP’s recent Beijing concert was a smashing success.

Japan has never fully capitalized on the potential positive impact that Cool Japan can have on its international competitiveness.

Takaaki Umezawa, Partner and Managing Director of A.T. Kearney Japan, advocates the strategic promotion of Cool Japan and comments that, “Japan is generally strong in the area of creativity, but weak in several critical areas: (1) ability to appraise overseas markets, (2) businesspersons with ability to lead the development of overseas markets, and (3) risk money needed to support these activities. The key to success is to focus on strengthening these vital areas.”

In today’s global economy, the attractiveness of national branding and intangible assets has come to have an impact on international competitiveness. Japan must develop a keener awareness of the value of soft power as a matter of national strategy. Initiative must be taken to utilize soft power in expanding overseas markets as well as in stimulating domestic demand.

Some countries are well aware of the impact of soft power on economic activities. We can see that they are already pursuing economic growth programs centered on strategies for promoting their nation’s creative content and branding.

A salient example is our neighboring country of Korea. With the Asian currency crisis as a starting point, then-President Kim Dae-jung unveiled his “Presidential Proclamation on Culture” in 1998. Since then, the promotion of high value-added content industries has been identified as a “strategic national project for the 21st century.” These industries have been prioritized in the government budget, and the public and private sectors have been working closely together to promote “Cool Korea” strategies. The Korea Institute of Design Promotion and the Korea Creative Content Agency were established as part of this initiative. Meanwhile, the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) has been leading a joint government and private sector program for promoting the strategic expansion of sales channels in the Asian markets.

As a result of these efforts, a “Korean pop culture boom” started to take shape around 2003. There is no doubt that this boom has dramatically enhanced Korean soft power. It is being said that its spillover effects contributed to increasing the market share of Korean cars and home electronic products in overseas markets, generally strengthening Korea’s international competitiveness, and increasing the number of foreign tourists. After taking office, President Lee Myung-bak established the Presidential Council on National Branding and has continued to foster and strengthen cultural industries as a key national strategy. I believe Japan must, with all humility, learn from the example of Korea’s united efforts and policies for promoting soft power industries.

In June 2010, Japan adopted the New Growth Strategy by Cabinet decision. The goals of this document include implementing “Strategies for intellectual property and standardization and exporting Cool Japan.”

Because soft power industries constitute the driving force for Cool Japan, it is absolutely essential for the government and private sector to work together in strategically fostering these industries, promoting their overseas expansion, developing necessary human resources, and raising Japan’s standing as a transmitter and presenter of information and ideas to the world. With this in mind, I am proposing the adoption of the following policies.

1. Pursue Cool Japan as a Key National Strategy

To promote Cool Japan, it is important to address it as a national strategy supported through government and private sector cooperation. This means promoting design and creative content development by prioritizing high value-added content industries in the government budget and creating a central command post led by a producer from the private sector with a proven track record. Japan needs to adopt a proactive stance for aggressive expansion in the markets of Asia, Europe, and America.

It is also important to promote Cool Japan strategies as a self-sustaining and self-propelling movement. To achieve this, the government and private sector must work hand-in-hand for the following:

-- Establish a Cool Japan Strategy Council with members drawn from both the government and private sector;

-- Establish a Cool Japan Discussion Group centered on young and up-coming producers;

-- Launch cooperative programs with municipal and prefectural governments; embassies and overseas missions of the Japanese government; related organizations (Japan Foundation, Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)).

Also, the government and private sector should cooperate in establishing Information Centers in the overseas missions of the Japanese government. This infrastructure would then be used to actively introduce and promote creative content, fashion and other aspects of the Japan brand. Another idea would be to make effective use of cross-media opportunities based on the combined use of multiple channels. Examples include joint international production of TV programs, support for translating popular Japanese websites, events for introducing Japanese culture, and the use of international broadcasting. There are limits to what the private sector can achieve without government assistance. Conversely, if the government were to work alone, the scope of its initiatives would be narrowed. Thus, the important thing here is to ensure close cooperation and collaboration between the public and private arms.

2. Find and Foster Producers and Businesspersons

The scope of Cool Japan is very broad. As mentioned earlier, Japan is generally strong in the area of creativity, which is widely appreciated and valued throughout the world. The issue is that Japan has not effectively commercialized its creativity to generate businesses.

“What is cool?” “What is interesting?” When the Japanese try to find answers to this question, they frequently turn out to be wrong. On the other hand, many Japanese cool things are discovered by foreigners and spread throughout the world on their own. What may appear to be commonplace to the Japanese may actually draw the keen interest of foreigners and may hold tremendous potential for Cool Japan. Therefore, Japan needs to organize domestic and international networks centered on foreigners who can act as connoisseurs and expert appraisers for Cool Japan. Their job description would be to discover Japan’s hidden cultural and regional resources and to package them for presentation to the world.

So, now we have creative people who create, and “connoisseurs” who discover creative content and art. What we need next are producers and businesspersons whose function is to spread this creative content and art throughout the world. Ultimately, they are the ones who must provide the driving force for Cool Japan. And unfortunately, this is exactly where Japan lags behind other countries.

Where should we find these businesspersons to lead the charge into overseas markets? Obvious choices would be Japanese businesspersons who have planted their roots in foreign countries, and foreigners with a love for Japan. In addition, such persons must be recruited widely from other industries too. There is no reason for the standard bearers of Cool Japan to be all Japanese. Instead, the search must extend to a diverse range of human resources in Asia and other countries.

The government has adopted a plan for 300,000 exchange students to come to Japan to study. As this plan moves forward, efforts should be made to increase the number of foreign students who find employment in Japan’s creative content industries. The goal would be to send out into the world foreigners who through cultural exchange have developed a good understanding and appreciation for Japan.

Another initiative in this field would be to establish awards and prizes for foreigners (appointment as cultural ambassadors, for example) who are making significant contributions in other countries. Japan needs to change its mindset to one that is prepared to actively recruit, accept and train human resources from overseas.

The training of these producers and businesspersons is a top priority for Japan. At the GLOBIS University Graduate School of Management, we are stepping up our commitment to developing human resources in this vital area.

3. Becoming a More Powerful hub of Information Overseas

For Cool Japan to go global, it is absolutely essential for Japan to become a more strategic hub and presenter of information. The first step is to identify the needs of the target country from a broad range of possible choices that would include film, TV dramas, fashion, food, and lifestyle. The equally important second step involves organically combining and presenting a number of these items as an integrated package. On this point, it should be noted that because the information transmitted after the Great East Japan Earthquake was frequently inaccurate, extensive damage was caused by false rumors. This misinformation must be countered with the transmission of accurate and speedy information in multiple languages using the Internet and other channels.

“Venues” and “events” can also play an important role in the presentation of Cool Japan. The international visibility and presentation power of the Japan International Contents Festival, the Tokyo International Film Festival, and other events held in Japan must be enhanced. Moreover, Japan can take full advantage of such commemorative events of 2011 as the 150th anniversary of Japan-Germany relations and the 50th anniversary of Japan-Kuwait diplomatic relations, and the 40th anniversary of the normalization of Japan-China diplomatic relations to be feted in 2012, as well as of international events, such as Japan Expo and the World Economic Forum (Davos Meeting).

Call to mind the 2011 Summer Davos Meeting held in Dalian, China. The Chinese government made excellent use of this meeting of world leaders to present and promote Chinese art. Japan should follow this example. That is, Japan should organize events where leaders of the world gather and should then exploit the gravitational power of these events to promote Cool Japan. Such initiatives will also be a vital element of Japan’s policies. In this context, it should be noted that GLOBIS hosted its first G1 Global Conference on Nov 3, 2011. Taking advantage of the interest of global leaders in this event, one of the sessions was naturally given to the subject on Cool Japan.

The explosive growth of the Internet and social media has radically changed the available menu for promotion. Conventional approaches of organizing trade fairs and business exchange fairs, and using movies and TV programs as national billboards, as has been so expertly done by Hollywood and Korea, obviously must be continued. But added to these conventional tools, strategic initiatives (including the use of such means as YouTube and Facebook) will play an increasingly important role in dramatically increasing the flow of information such as word-of-mouth and others that serve as an information hub.

4. Commit Ample Funds

To recap, the objective is to generate creative content, to foster an army of producers and businesspersons, and to make a powerful presentation of Cool Japan throughout the world. To a significant degree, success will depend on the availability of sufficient funds in related fields. One idea would be to combine the human and financial resources of the government and private sector to establish a fund dedicated to supporting the global expansion of Japan’s outstanding creative content.

Comprehensive financial support should be extended to such initiatives as the production of creative content targeting overseas markets from the initial planning stage, the development of overseas sales channels, and enhancing the exposure of Japanese creative content in local media. So, where should this risk money come from? In addition to the standard channels of government and private sector funding, one option would be to collect funds from domestic supporters prepared to make long-term investments (without the expectation of high returns) for realizing this goal.

Korea’s success in music, drama, film, and other media is proof that Japan can be equally successful in overseas markets. From the earliest planning stage, producers of creative content should always be mindful of the promise and potential of marketing their content in foreign markets. Japan has long been a dominant force in computer games. However, it is interesting to note that the principal platform for games has shifted to mobile phones, and smart phones now provide the main battlefield for this industry. It is very encouraging to see that young Japanese are boldly moving into this battlefield with their eyes fixed on global markets.

It should be said that GLOBIS is actively investing in game and creative content companies. In the past, Japanese hardware manufactured by such star performers as Sony and Honda crossed the seas to emerge victorious in foreign markets. A critical advantage that the new age offers is that software can freely and effortlessly cross the seas and continents of the world through the simple magic of downloading. The stage has literally been set and we now have at our fingertips unparalleled opportunities for sending out Japanese software and creative content to capture the markets of the world.

We live in an age where daily trading volume in the shares of a GREE, a company founded just a few years ago, have come to exceed that of Toyota to be ranked the most heavily traded issue on Japan’s stock exchanges. While the manufacture of hardware certainly remains important, this simple fact augurs the approach of an age where the fun and dreams packaged in software will be of even greater importance. In preparation for that age, Japan must use Cool Japan as a springboard for claiming its position in the world.

  • Results are based on research on creativity conducted by GLOBIS in 2009 (consciousness survey on businesspersons from 14 leading countries, including the United States, Europe, and China). The research points to the following findings: “The Japanese are not fully aware of their own creativity, but businesspersons of other countries acknowledge that the Japanese are highly creative.” “The Chinese are very confident of their own creativity and adopt a posture that is opposite that of the Japanese.”
© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

16 Comments
Login to comment

Ok....

Is Japan creative? Yes! More so that other nations? Perhaps in some select areas of interest. Is Japan actually cool? Not that I have seen in the many years I have been here.

Japan needs to be careful about marketing itself as cool. Visitors who pay attention will quickly see that Japan is not cool. It is "Commercial" which is something entirely different than cool.

Most of what people abroad associate with Japan is commercial, Manga, Anime, Idols, Porn, Cuteness etc... Very little of this actually reflects Japanese life or lifestyle.

In reality Anime and Manga is escapism for the legions of overworked and socially isolated people here. Idols are production company distractions to help sell products etc... J-pop is fluffy commercial music that has little support outside Japan/Korea and a sparce spattering of Otaku internationally. Kawaii, gets old when you realize there is no depth to it and it wears off too.

If Japan is serious about becoming "cool" then there are things it can do.

Promote the true creativity of the legions of independent and young artists who do not conform to the commercial pigeon holes. There are so many talented artists, writers, performers, musicians and more that just don't get produced because they don't fit into the narrow markets defined by production companies. Yet this is where Japan is actually very cool and very creative.

Promote something other than kawaii for a change. Let's see a return to the creative Japan of the 60's and 70's when you did not have to be cute to make it in creative fields here. Imagine musicians who can actually sing and play rather than the silly produced kawai projects. Imagine actors that have interesting instead of only cute faces. And imagine art that is honest, edgy and raw instead of produced sticky cuteness.

Otherwise people will see through this "cool" campaign very soon.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Agree with Tkoind2 about Japan's over-emphasis on cute, and that it should do more to promote those who are not part of the mainstream. But then again, those people (artists/designers/musicians,etc) tend to get picked up by foreigners in those circles in Japan, who then spread that info by word of mouth/internet.

Japan has never fully capitalized on the potential positive impact that Cool Japan can have on its international competitiveness.

This is true per se, not just related to business. Given Japan's geographical placing in the world, many tourists will go to "nearer" places. Japan needs to do more to promote itself full stop. But they also need to do more than trotting out the old "unique culture" line (which only took until the 2nd paragraph to make its expected appearance)

The first step is to identify the needs of the target country from a broad range of possible choices that would include film, TV dramas, fashion, food, and lifestyle.

Well, we can drop "TV drama" from that list, as JTV dramas are god-awful. "Lifestyle" is a point of contention also; not sure many countries would be enchanted by working endless hours of unpaid overtime, or the (to the west) outdated ideas of women's role in society, or any other of Japan's social ills.

On this point, it should be noted that because the information transmitted after the Great East Japan Earthquake was frequently inaccurate, extensive damage was caused by false rumors. This misinformation must be countered with the transmission of accurate and speedy information in multiple languages using the Internet and other channels.

Sorry, but you need to look very much at home with this one. You can translate it into any language you like; but as long as it comes form the Gov or Tepco, it's always going to be a half truth at best...

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Many foreign celebrities are avid fans of Hello Kitty

Not just celebrities. My girl friend bought me some Hello Kittie panties. Now that is cool.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Japan needs to organize domestic and international networks centered on foreigners who can act as connoisseurs and expert appraisers for Cool Japan. Their job description would be to discover Japan's hidden cultural and regional resources and to package them for presentation to the world.

Great idea, but good luck selling that one to the suits - "far too much responsibility" to give to the likes of us foreigners.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It is in fact quite true that many young people around the world are attracted by things Japanese and Korean. Which one is more interesting is for the future to prove. However, adults normally grow out of this phase, even though a certain fascination lasts. At least, Euopeans normally don't freak about KAWAII Japanese.

And the uniqueness of Japanese culture is almost as popular as the Shimaguni argument. Still, every culture is unique. Due to the Japanese perspective, theirs is more unique than the common "foreigner culture", though. Japan needs different strategies for the different parts of the world. Until they realise that, there won't be any global success of Cool Japan. And they first have to understand the viewpoint of those to whom they want to sell something. I doubt that this will happen in the near future.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

If you say you are cool, then you are not. Maybe they should try using a Japanese word that many gaijin know around the world.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There is no need to promote Japan's sub-culture by the government under the name of Cool Japan. Those subcultures such as Anime and Manga are created just for fun, not for being proud of them. It is very pleased that some foreigners get interested in such things and appreciate them. But intervention of the government in such fields would ruin all funny products, I think.

Anyway, "Cool Japan" sounds bit awkward.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

They should be honest and go the other way...."Hot Japan"...which it is in many good ways and several really bad ways. including Daiichi, I agree, "Cool Japan" doesn't swing...although CoolBiz wera sure is great in summer...again...that could be "hot", too!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan should organize events where leaders of the world gather and should then exploit the gravitational power of these events to promote Cool Japan.

.....and here to promote Cool Japan, 4 tarento and a kawaii character mascot!

Agreed with most above -- forget about anime and manga, those genres already have fans around the world who have no need to come to Japan. They're already getting what they want, where they are.

Promote real artists of all fields. Lionize them. Japan doesn't need My Little Pony, it needs Vaclav Havel. There are people of substance in Japan's arts who should be household names. Johnny's won't promote them, it's up to the government. Does Japan have something along the lines of a MacArthur Grant? If not, maybe it's time.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The government has adopted a plan for 300,000 exchange students to come to Japan to study. As this plan moves forward, efforts should be made to increase the number of foreign students who find employment in Japan’s creative content industries. The goal would be to send out into the world foreigners who through cultural exchange have developed a good understanding and appreciation for Japan.

Dumb. This suggestion is out of date. What you're really saying is "we need to hire foreigners, indoctrinate them to our culture and sales tactics and then send them back to their own countries to extol the "awesomeness" of japanese culture.". Drone alert!

The only real creative thing in japan is the porn. First class and innovative. There are few bands that are good - Fujifabric being one of them - but the lead singer is dead and they disbanded.

I suppose i can see why there would be a push for selling 'kawaii' culture because it is unique to japan. Few, if any, countries exploit young girls quite like japan does. You'd have to some how mitigate the 'paedophile ' image in order for it to be successful.

Perhaps you can up the output of the high quality green tea that never gets exported, instead all the rancid crap gets sold abroad. That's something that is unique to japan and could perhaps build an image/brand around.

The article also talks about korea being successful, in asia perhaps, but the rest of the world? Maybe what Yoshito Hori is saying is that japan needs to really penetrate the massive chinese market by telling them japan is "cool", and if successful, can sell more hardware products to them...because if japan isn't too careful chinese culture could become "cool" and with it all the tech clones will be selling their wares en masse in japan.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

No question in my mind, Japan is "Way Cool!"

(Just wish they would reopen that Maritime Museum in Odaiba...)

Look at the smooth style and design at Haneda airport, the cleanliness, the layout, the simplicity melded with beauty (no joke, I really like the place - clean seats, no ugly gum on the floors, super clean trains...); like the temples all around this great nation; Kinkaku-ji, the Japanese Alps, super advanced sciences (Super-K deep underground in Gifu), the high literacy, as near zero crime as one could expect, the sweet smiling old ladies, the gorgeous kimono clad 20-year olds, pretty stylish girls everywhere by the bucket-load! whoa.

If this is not cool, I never will know cool.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

While I'm an avid anime/manga/video game fan I still go to Japan to see the traditional culture such as scenery, landscapes, hot springs, temples, castles, pottery, native cuisine etc. Spot on Tkoind2, best to promote natural culture cos not everyone is interested in the modern pop cultural stuff.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

being cool and being credible are two different things... unfortunately many things initially perceived as cool in Japan lose credibility pretty quickly - style over substance...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There is a very big car, racing, drifting, tuning culture here that has been followed keenly by others around the world for years. Tokyo Auto Salon this weekend for example, there is always huge amounts of car mad foreigners coming every year for it.

There are also tours for the car tuning culture/scene, this part of Japan is extemely popular around the world and could be the leader in promoting the notion of "Cool Japan".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

safe and delicious food products

not sure about this point.. was this article conceived pre 3/11?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"cool Japan"...an oxymoron

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites